Monday, April 6, 2009

Getting Dressed . . . By Myself!

When children become toddlers, they begin to develop a self-awareness and independence. All parents know this is when the word “no” enters the vocabulary! One of the ways that toddlers express their independence is through their ability to dress and undress themselves and to make clothing choices. Clothes are more important to young children than most people think. Comfortable clothes make a child feel confident and independent. They also help the child express their personality through color, style and texture. Toddlers love to undress themselves to demonstrate independence and usually start by removing socks, shoes, hats, coats and mittens. Of course by age two; they will probably master the art of undressing completely and streaking naked across the living room, usually when you have company! The dressing process is a little more complicated than undressing, but by age two most children are able to pull on simple clothing. You can assist by providing clothing that is easy to put on and take off such as shirts with stretchy necks and pants with elastic waists. These pull down pants will also help with toilet learning. With practice, the young child will get very accomplished with dressing but may still put clothing items on backwards or shoes on the wrong feet. It’s best if you use a teamwork approach and be on hand to help when needed so the toddler does not become too frustrated. You may find you need to unbuckle overalls or unbutton garments before the item can be pulled on. It is hard for little hands to manage buttons, zippers and other small fasteners. Another way you can help is to lay out the clothing in the order that it should be put on. You can point out that the tag goes in the back or the elephant design goes in the front. This is a great time to work on other skills such as colors and the parts of the body (the RED shoes go on your FEET). You can practice giving simple instructions to the child such as “pull the shirt over your head”, “put your arms in the armholes”, and then “pull the shirt down”. Don’t make it too complicated. This whole learning process of getting dressed lasts from about 18 months to four years. Most children are four or five before they can tie their shoes or button shirts correctly. Surviving this developmental stage is a balancing act for parents; if you don’t let them do it or if you interfere too much, the child gets frustrated. But if you don’t help at all, he may never finish dressing and will also end up frustrated. One of the most annoying parts of having preschoolers dress themselves is that it takes so much time! They have a poor sense of time and don’t understand what it means to be in a hurry. They are not dawdling to make you angry; it is just a normal developmental stage. Try to schedule extra time for dressing so the activity doesn’t end in an angry outburst. A huge source of conflict in children dressing themselves is over what the child is going to wear. I am in favor of letting a child make decisions in this area, but by all means you need to limit the choices or you will never make it out of the house! Ask “do you want to wear the blue shirt or the red one” instead of “what shirt do you want to wear?” As children get older and insist on selecting their outfits, things get even more interesting. We have all seen children in the grocery store wearing a bathing suit, boots and a scarf around the neck and smiled to ourselves when we guessed who picked the ensemble that day! Unless the clothing is inappropriate for the weather or occasion, let your child have a little freedom of expression. And of course take a photo to show them when he or she is a teenager! I think it is this conflict over what the child wears that distresses parents most. We all think the people who see our child in multi-colored, mismatched clothing will judge us as parents. Relax and consider that all parents face this “opportunity to teach”. Remember that in the long run, having a child who has learned to make decisions and act independently is much more important than having a child with a stylish, coordinated outfit!

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